Monday, February 6, 2012

Losers, Runaways & Idiots for the Jesus of Suburbia

"And there's nothing wrong with me
This is how I'm supposed to be
In a land of make believe
That don't believe in me"

Green Day, Jesus of Suburbia
Part 1: the Jesus of Suburbia


In 2008, punk rock band Green Day released American Idiot, an album that revitalized their career and brought their music in a new direction. Called a "rock opera" the album followed a protagonist, sometimes called "the Jesus of Suburbia" as he becomes disillusioned with the failures of the American culture of middle class life: 7/11's, drugs, an inarticulate Christianity, war, and the end of the nuclear family. On his journey, beginning in the second track "Jesus of Suburbia," he encounters the persona "Saint Jimmy" and "Whatshername," as he finds space to redefine himself. 

Middle // Class Jesus

"Home is where your heart is
But what a shame
Cause everyone's heart
Doesn't beat the same
It's beating out of time"

Green Day, Jesus of Suburbia
Part 2: City of the Damned

What does Queer sound like? Of course the question is performatively self-defeating, but also productive because it can get us somewhere. For me it has landed me in recent years listening to Danger Days: the True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys by My Chemical Romance as well as American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown. The former gets us closer to Rock-Pop, and Lady GaGa, among contemporary music that has some pretty promising queer developments (and may be the topic of other posts), while the latter occupies a contestable spot in Rock-Punk (or Pop-Rock or Pop-Punk, as 90's Punk Rockers might quibble). 

Sticking with Green Day's early 2000 album, American Idiot, specifically its first track in the formal storyline of the rock-opera (the 1st actual track just sets the theme/problem of the album) where the protagonist asks the question "how do I not be an American Idiot?" In the first version of this question, he means the straight, normal, middle class American dream-system which seems to have gotten him clogged in the works. Over the course of the track the answer seems to be the introduction of another question: "how do I become an American Idiot?" wherein he can pull the signature Punk/Queer move of aggressively deforming the normative into something...else, with questionable success.

This project mirrors what Green Day as a band was also looking to do with the album: something else. In early interviews and remembered in later ones, they offer the justification for the album as it arrived as something that would get them out of where they were and either towards doom (& retirement) or a less doom-filled place than they were currently. The success of the album in fact revitalized the band's popularity, spurred another decade of tours, a second album, a Broadway musical (now touring), and soon a movie produced by Tom Hanks. But isn't this just the same old system of normative success? Can we ever get away? If so, how? It's a good question. It is also a central question of Punk.

Middle // Class Losers

"I don't care if you don't
I don't care if you don't
I don't care if you don't care"

Green Day, Jesus of Suburbia
Part 3: I Don't Care

Punk, like Queer, operates like an anti-identity. It self-consciously cannot exist as a category, because while reflecting many neo-liberal dreams by promoting "originality" and "individuality" in a community where all are "equal" or at least "equally different" it admits that failure is inherent in the project. Contrary to the industry punk of Hot-Topic general message of selling an identity, or perhaps as the ironic result of the failure of this message, Punk cannot create its own clothing, music, culture, or creed separate from industries of normativity. Punk can only antagonize, bastardize, and repossess.

Thus, there is no contradiction that Punk becomes popular with those who are "haves" in the Middle // Class, even the older professional age groups, despite the initial emergence of the movement among working class youth, or "have nots." The identity politics of Queer theory and the Post-Modern Marxist theories of late capitalism would articulate that the system of material & symbolic production would capture and abject members of the Middle // Class as much as anyone. The "straight" "normal" American capitalist dream is a place where no one can exist. Like the subject lost in the symbolic order or the struggling worker trying to get by in a life-style they can't afford, no one can feel "at home" or a "success" if they hold on that dream of totality. We all become lost, we all lose the human race. But there still may be a way to become good at getting lost, a way to better enjoy the ride to nowhere.

Middle // Class Idiots

"Am I retarded or am I just overjoyed
Nobody's perfect and I stand accused
For lack of a better word, and that's my best excuse"

Green Day, Jesus of Suburbia
Part 4: Dearly Beloved

And yet we cannot blame the system for our problems, at least not a system external to ourselves. A new norm is (re)produced in our failed attempts at producing either the old norm or its alternative. The moment we try to abject the "straight" and say "they don't care about me" we inscribe their position as the specter of our own. If we carefully trace around the norm, we will find it perfectly outlined and placed in a tabernacle inside our identity which would make us forever bound to their existence, eternally outside and inside our bodies like a suppressed addiction or shadowy monster which may come back to police us at any moment. In policing our own borders against the uncaring-other, we attempt a sort of uniform charity which again neutralizes every-one/thing in our network in order to maintain an inversion to the norm. We become exactly what we are accused of being: the inverted, the broken, the perverted versions of the straight. Our antagonism becomes as confining as obedience would be. That is the nightmare if we actually could perfectly be Punk or Queer, but we cannot.

So do we care, if no one cares? Are we happy or angry with the system (or being it's shadow)? Are we perfect or are we accused? Do we have a name, or do we lack a better word?

What seems to be the answer is to play dumb. Post-Modernism promotes the pastiche, but we need not be so humorless. If we cannot escape or resolve the tension between the norm and the queer, the system and the punk which disturbs it, then we have to be on some level indifferent to both. By not trying to be one or the other, we can partially escape the cycle and open ourselves to wandering and discovering new unknown norms and unknown problems. But since we carry the cycle around with us, and it will continue to perpetuate itself (with all its symbolic, material, economic violence) we need be cautious check the game we are subconsciousness playing. Also, there is some fun in the game. The push and pull of wins, losses, and opposition can give us the material and the drive to keep going. It may seem cruel to laugh in the face of a desperate conditions, but if not then, when can we laugh? It's okay to play the idiot, sometimes.

Middle // Class Runaways

"And I walked this line
A million and one fucking times
But not this time"

Green Day, Jesus of Suburbia:
Part 5: Tales from Another Broken Home

Playing is all well and good for those who aren't suffering under the intensity of violence in an unlivable life, but what about those who can't play around anymore?

One issue with theory is that it tends to universalize, because thought and language (which are its principle tools and materials) tend toward universalization, because they work in re-presentation. This is where Things may be useful. Not specific things, like shopping or alcohol, but Things in their logical impenetrability and their ability to launch out and swerve. In other words, screw words or destinations, just get out of here! We've discussed before how depression can cause cyclical thought, and the way out is just to do things regardless of the sense of them. Become a thing in motion, hurtling off into the unknown. Run away. Eventually you will have to look back, or at least look around, but by then you will have (1) gotten some distance from the old problems and (2) worked out your frustration so you can begin to tackle the new problems of wherever you have arrived at.

This is one sense of Dasein of Heidegger or Chesterton's Flag of the World. We discover our world and ourselves as an unknown thing every time we establish a time and place and a self. This may be reason to hope, because the symbolic order cannot possibly keep up with the universe as it tries to colonize it with meaning/representation/sense. If things are too static or the motions to repetitious, make a change, go somewhere else. You will bring things with you, but they will transform along the way. This may just be a flight into the a-logical, into hope, into fairy-land, but regardless of whether or not we seek the night, we may someday may find ourselves moving through it; plus, sometimes stepping on the gas is just damn cathartic.


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